US Identified Intelligence Failings in 2004 Over Iraq Invasion

The findings of an investigation into the United Kingdom’s participation in the Iraq war, released this Wednesday, have provoked a sense of déjà vu in the United States. The conclusion that former Prime Minister Tony Blair based his decision to join the 2003 invasion on “flawed intelligence” that was “presented with a certainty that was not justified” is similar to that reached by a 2004 Senate investigation.

In the United States there have been two significant investigations into George W. Bush’s decision to intervene militarily in Iraq under the pretext that the Saddam Hussein regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Around 4,500 Americans have died in the conflict. Both U.S. investigations determined that errors were made in the collection of information used to justify the invasion, including the fact there was deception between different agencies and a lack of preparation of personnel. However, these investigations barely addressed George W. Bush’s responsibility in the decision-making process.

The Senate Intelligence Committee began its investigation in June 2003, three months after the start of the war. The first set of conclusions was released a year later and the second in 2008. For his part, under pressure owing to the lack of any significant discovery of arms, President Bush announced the creation of another investigating committee, led by a Democratic senator and a Republican lawmaker in February 2004. Its aim was to analyze the information provided to the government by the intelligence agencies but not to examine the role played by Bush, who that year was running for re-election. The conclusions, released in 2005, agreed with those of the aforementioned Senate investigation, albeit expressed in a harsher tone.

The investigations determined that the main conclusions of a 2002 CIA report on WMD, upon which Congress approved the invasion, “were overstated or were not supported by the raw intelligence reporting.” They also accused the intelligence agencies of presenting ambiguous information as factual and of not adequately communicating the possible uncertainties surrounding the report’s conclusions.

The US intelligence community found itself “paralyzed by its inability to collect significant intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs” and it relied on “old assumptions” that the Saddam regime had at its disposal an extensive arsenal “so as to provide secret intelligence that appeared to back up these assumptions, when in reality they were lacking in value, if not deceitful,” the Bush commission concluded.*

Without fully examining the role of the president, the Senate investigation accused Bush and his closest confidants of repeatedly exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq and of downplaying both the uncertainty of the intelligence analyses and of the disagreements between different branches of government. The commission also rebuked the government for having exaggerated the possible links between al-Qaida and the Iraqi regime.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the portions of the Bush commission report quoted here could not be independently verified.

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